F. F. E. Yeo-Thomas
Wing Commander
Wing Commander (rank)
Wing commander is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries...

 Forest Frederick Edward "Tommy" Yeo-Thomas, GC
George Cross
The George Cross is the highest civil decoration of the United Kingdom, and also holds, or has held, that status in many of the other countries of the Commonwealth of Nations...

, MC & Bar
Military Cross
The Military Cross is the third-level military decoration awarded to officers and other ranks of the British Armed Forces; and formerly also to officers of other Commonwealth countries....

, Croix de guerre
Croix de guerre
The Croix de guerre is a military decoration of France. It was first created in 1915 and consists of a square-cross medal on two crossed swords, hanging from a ribbon with various degree pins. The decoration was awarded during World War I, again in World War II, and in other conflicts...

(with palms), Commandeur of the Légion d'honneur
Légion d'honneur
The Legion of Honour, or in full the National Order of the Legion of Honour is a French order established by Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of the Consulat which succeeded to the First Republic, on 19 May 1802...

, (17 June 1902 - 26 February 1964) was the British Special Operations Executive
Special Operations Executive
The Special Operations Executive was a World War II organisation of the United Kingdom. It was officially formed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton on 22 July 1940, to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Axis powers and to instruct and aid local...

 (SOE) agent codenamed "The White Rabbit" during World War II. His particular sphere of operations was Occupied and Vichy France
Vichy France
Vichy France, Vichy Regime, or Vichy Government, are common terms used to describe the government of France that collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944. This government succeeded the Third Republic and preceded the Provisional Government of the French Republic...


Early life

Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas was born in London to John Yeo Thomas, a coal
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...

 merchant, and Daisy Ethel Thomas (born Burrows). Early in his life, his family moved to Dieppe
Dieppe, Seine-Maritime
Dieppe is a commune in the Seine-Maritime department in France. In 1999, the population of the whole Dieppe urban area was 81,419.A port on the English Channel, famous for its scallops, and with a regular ferry service from the Gare Maritime to Newhaven in England, Dieppe also has a popular pebbled...

, France. He spoke both English and French fluently. He saw action in the Polish-Soviet War
Polish-Soviet War
The Polish–Soviet War was an armed conflict between Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine and the Second Polish Republic and the Ukrainian People's Republic—four states in post–World War I Europe...

 of 1919-1920, fighting alongside the Poles. He was captured by the Soviet Russian forces, and avoided execution by escaping, in the process strangling a Russian guard.

Life as an agent

Between the wars, Yeo-Thomas worked for Molyneux
Edward Molyneux
Edward Henry Molyneux was a British fashion designer whose fashion house in Paris was in operation from 1919 until 1950.- Overview :Born in London to Justin Molyneux and Lizzy Kenny, Edward Molyneux attended Beaumont College, a Roman Catholic preparatory school...

, a successful fashion-house in Paris. However, after the fall of France and the chaotic evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940, he escaped back to England, where he initially worked as an interpreter for de Gaulle's
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

 Free French forces. However, he was quickly prised away from de Gaulle by the British Special Operations Executive
Special Operations Executive
The Special Operations Executive was a World War II organisation of the United Kingdom. It was officially formed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton on 22 July 1940, to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Axis powers and to instruct and aid local...

 (SOE), a newly-formed intelligence and subversion organization.

At first Yeo-Thomas worked in an administrative capacity, but SOE soon used him as a liaison officer with the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action
Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action
The Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action , commonly referred as the BCRA was the World War II-era forerunner of the SDECE, the French intelligence service...

 (BCRA), the Free French intelligence agency. He was parachuted into occupied France for the first time on 25 February 1943. Both within France and back in England, Yeo-Thomas forged links with Major Pierre Brossolette
Pierre Brossolette
Pierre Brossolette was a French journalist, left-wing politician, a top leader and major hero of French Resistance.-Education and journalism:...

 and Andre Dewavrin
André Dewavrin
Andre Dewavrin was a French officer who served with Free French Forces intelligence services during World War II.He was born in Paris, the son of a businessman...

 (who went under the codename Colonel Passy), and between them they created a strategy for obstructing the German occupation of France. While working for SOE, he returned to France on 17 September 1943. He was appalled by the lack of logistical and material support which the French resistance movements such as the maquis
Maquis (World War II)
The Maquis were the predominantly rural guerrilla bands of the French Resistance. Initially they were composed of men who had escaped into the mountains to avoid conscription into Vichy France's Service du travail obligatoire to provide forced labour for Germany...

 were receiving, to the extent that he begged five minutes with Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

, the British Prime Minister. Churchill, reluctant at first, but fascinated by what Yeo-Thomas told him, agreed to help him obtain resources for the resistance.

In February 1944, Yeo-Thomas was parachuted into France after flying from RAF Tempsford
RAF Tempsford
RAF Tempsford in Bedfordshire, England was perhaps the most secret Royal Air Force airfield in World War II. It was home to the Special Duties Squadrons, No. 138, which dropped Special Operations Executive agents and their supplies into occupied Europe, and No...

. However, he was betrayed and captured at the Passy metro station
Passy (Paris Metro)
Passy is a rapid transit station on Line 6 of the Paris Métro in the 16th arrondissement of the city. It is elevated at its eastern end, while its western end is in the mouth of a tunnel.-Location:...

 in Paris. In endeavouring to hide his true identity, Yeo-Thomas claimed he was a British pilot named Kenneth Dodkin. He was then taken by the Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

 to their headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch
84 Avenue Foch
Number 84 Avenue Foch was a building in Paris used by the Gestapo during the German occupation of Paris in World War II.The location is found on Avenue Foch, a wide residential boulevard in the XVIe arrondissement which connects the Arc de Triomphe and the Porte Dauphine.During the German...

 and subjected to brutal torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

, including repeated submersion in ice-cold water (each time to the point that artificial respiration was required to bring him back to consciousness), innumerable physical beatings, and electric shocks applied to the genitals. Held in Fresnes prison
Fresnes Prison
Fresnes Prison is the second largest prison in France, located in the town of Fresnes, Val-de-Marne South of Paris...

, he made two failed attempts to escape and was transferred first to Compiègne prison and then to Buchenwald concentration camp
Buchenwald concentration camp
Buchenwald concentration camp was a German Nazi concentration camp established on the Ettersberg near Weimar, Germany, in July 1937, one of the first and the largest of the concentration camps on German soil.Camp prisoners from all over Europe and Russia—Jews, non-Jewish Poles and Slovenes,...

. Within the camp, he began to organize resistance, and again made a brief escape. On his recapture, he passed himself off as a French national and was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag
In Germany, stalag was a term used for prisoner-of-war camps. Stalag is a contraction of "Stammlager", itself short for Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager.- Legal definitions :...

 XX-B, near Marienburg
Malbork is a town in northern Poland in the Żuławy region , with 38,478 inhabitants . Situated in the Pomeranian Voivodeship since 1999, it was previously assigned to Elbląg Voivodeship...


While at Buchenwald, Yeo-Thomas met Squadron leader
Squadron Leader
Squadron Leader is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence. It is also sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. In these...

 Phil Lamason
Phil Lamason
Phillip John Lamason DFC & Bar was a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force during the Second World War, who rose to prominence as the senior officer in charge of 168 Allied airmen taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany, in August 1944...

, the officer in charge of 168 Allied airmen
KLB Club
The KLB Club was formed on 12 October 1944, and included the 168 allied airmen who were held prisoner at Buchenwald concentration camp between 20 August and 19 October 1944...

 being held there. At great risk, Yeo-Thomas assisted Lamason in getting word out of camp to the German Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 of the airmen's captivity, knowing that the Luftwaffe would be sympathetic to their situation.

Eventually, after several more failed attempts to escape, he succeeded and reached Allied lines in late April 1945.

After the war

After the war, Yeo-Thomas was to be an important witness at the Nuremberg War Trials
Nuremberg Trials
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany....

 in the identification of Buchenwald officials. He was a key prosecution witness at the Buchenwald Trial held at Dachau Concentration Camp between April and August 1947. At this trial, 31 members of the Buchenwald staff were convicted of war crimes. He was also a surprise defence witness in the war crimes trial of Otto Skorzeny
Otto Skorzeny
Otto Skorzeny was an SS-Obersturmbannführer in the German Waffen-SS during World War II. After fighting on the Eastern Front, he was chosen as the field commander to carry out the rescue mission that freed the deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from captivity...

, particularly on the charge of Skorzeny's improper use of American uniforms in infiltrating American lines
Operation Greif
Operation Greif was a special false flag operation commanded by Waffen-SS commando Otto Skorzeny during the Battle of the Bulge. The operation was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler, and its purpose was to capture one or more of the bridges over the Meuse river before they could be destroyed...

. Yeo-Thomas testified that he had himself worn German uniforms behind enemy lines while working for the SOE.

He died at the age of 62 in his Paris apartment following a massive haemorrhage. He was buried in Brookwood Cemetery
Brookwood Cemetery
Brookwood Cemetery is a burial ground in Brookwood, Surrey, England. It is the largest cemetery in the United Kingdom and one of the largest in western Europe.-History:...

, Surrey. In March 2010 his life was commemorated with an English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

 blue plaque
Blue plaque
A blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in a public place to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person or event, serving as a historical marker....

 erected at his flat in Queens Court where he lived in Guilford Street
Guilford Street
Guilford Street is a road in Bloomsbury in central London, England. From Russell Square it extends east-northeast to Gray's Inn Road. Note that it is not spelt the same way as Guildford in Surrey.It has an entrance to Coram's Fields....

, Camden, Central London.

George Cross citation

The London Gazette
London Gazette
The London Gazette is one of the official journals of record of the British government, and the most important among such official journals in the United Kingdom, in which certain statutory notices are required to be published...

 15 February 1946 Citation:
The KING has been graciously pleased to award the George Cross
George Cross
The George Cross is the highest civil decoration of the United Kingdom, and also holds, or has held, that status in many of the other countries of the Commonwealth of Nations...

 to Acting Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward YEO-THOMAS, M.C. (89215), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

This officer was parachuted into France on 25th February, 1943. He showed much courage and initiative during his mission, particularly when he enabled a French officer who was being followed by a Gestapo agent in Paris to reach safety and resume clandestine work in another area. He also took charge of a U.S. Army Air Corps officer who had been shot down and, speaking no French, was in danger of capture. This officer returned to England on the 15th April, 1943, in the aircraft which picked up Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas.

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas undertook a second mission on the 17th September, 1943. Soon after his arrival in France, many patriots were arrested. Undeterred, he continued his enquires and obtained information which enabled the desperate situation being rectified. On six occasions, he narrowly escaped arrest. He returned to England on the 15th November, 1943, bringing British intelligence archives which he had secured from a house watched by the Gestapo.

This officer was again parachuted into France in February, 1944. Despite every security precaution, he was betrayed to the Gestapo in Paris on the 21st March. While being taken by car to Gestapo Headquarters, he was badly "beaten up". He then underwent 4 days continuous interrogation, interspersed with beatings and torture, including immersions, head downwards, in ice-cold water, with legs and arms chained. Interrogations later continued for 2 months and Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas was offered his freedom in return for information concerning the Head of a Resistance Secretariat. Owing to his wrist being cut by chains, he contracted blood-poisoning and nearly lost his left arm. He made two daring but unsuccessful attempts to escape. He was then confined in solitude in Fresnes prison for 4 months, including 3 weeks in a darkened cell with very little food. Throughout these months of almost continuous torture, he steadfastly refused to disclose any information.

On the 17th July, Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas was sent with a party to Compiègne prison, from which he twice attempted to escape. He and 36 others were transferred to Buchenwald. On the way, they stopped at Saarbrücken, where they were beaten and kept in a tiny hut. They arrived at Buchenwald on the 16th August and 16 of them were executed and cremated on the 10th September. Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas had already commenced to organise resistance within the camp and remained undaunted by the prospect of a similar fate. He accepted an opportunity of changing his identity with that of a dead French prisoner, on condition that other officers would also be enabled to do so. In this way, he was instrumental in saving the lives of two officers.

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas was later transferred to a work kommando
Kommando is a generic German word meaning unit or command. During World War II it was also the basic unit of organisation of slave labourers in German concentration camps....

 for Jews. In attempting to escape, he was picked up by a German patrol and, claiming French nationality, was transferred to a camp near Marienburg for French prisoners of war. On the 16th April, 1945, he led a party of 20 in a most gallant attempt to escape in broad daylight. Ten of them were killed by gunfire from the guards. Those who reached cover split up into small groups. Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas became separated from his companions after 3 days without food. He continued alone for a week and was recaptured when only 800 yards from the American lines. A few days later, he escaped with a party of 10 French prisoners of war, whom he led through German patrols to the American lines.

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas thus turned his final mission into a success by his determined opposition to the enemy, his strenuous efforts to maintain the morale of his fellow prisoners and his brilliant escape activities. He endured brutal treatment and torture without flinching and showed the most amazing fortitude and devotion to duty throughout his service abroad, during which he was under the constant threat of death.


  • Michael Caine
    Michael Caine
    Sir Michael Caine, CBE is an English actor. He won Academy Awards for best supporting actor in both Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules ....

     in the 1958 film Carve Her Name with Pride
    Carve Her Name with Pride
    Carve Her Name with Pride is a 1958 British drama film based on the book of the same name by R.J. Minney. Set during World War II, the film is based on the true story of the heroism of Special Operations Executive agent Violette Szabo, with Virginia McKenna in the lead role.The film includes the...

    (minor uncredited appearance)
  • Kenneth More
    Kenneth More
    Kenneth Gilbert More CBE was a highly successful English film actor during the post-World War II era and starred in many feature films, often in the role of an archetypal carefree and happy-go-lucky middle-class gentleman.-Early life:Kenneth More was born in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, the...

     in the BBC
    The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

    1967 television mini-series The White Rabbit (1967).
  • Peter Hudson in the 2008 French television mini-series La Résistance

External links

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